Paddling Technique Overview

We offer technique analysis either one-on-one or in small groups, or online – send us a Youtube link or DVD of yourself paddling from various angles, and we will analyse it and either email a report back or discuss it over Skype (or both). Check out the online shop or call or email Tim Altman.

Download an abbreviated version of Paddling Technique Overview PDF here

The Objective of Efficient Technique Being To Use the Strongest Muscles (those of the torso) at the Strongest Part of the Stroke (the front – at toe level or before).

Main Points to Achieve Within the Stroke:

  • Start and finish each stroke in ‘spear the fish’ set up position; i.e. front and back hands at shoulder-eye height, shaft of blade parallel to the water, torso as side-on as possible. This creates SEPARATION between strokes rather than each stroke rolling into the next.
  • Spear the blade in the water whilst the body is still side on using arms/hands before anything else moves; i.e. back shoulder, knee, hip, torso. Hold the torso side on until the blade enters. The blade spears into the water using arms only – the front arm/hand extends forward and down using triceps (generally from bent in the air to straight as the blade enters the water) and the back arm spears down the direction of the shaft (NOT FORWARD) using upper pecs.
  • Aim to lift the boat out of the water using downward force first as the blade enters the water.
  • Then thrust the boat forward by rotating the torso and the body (hips, abdominals, back, shoulders) before the arm bends. (The use of the feet and knees will assist rotation; i.e. the knee on the same side of the body as the hand holding the blade in the water drives down and the corresponding hip, and shoulder drives backward. The opposite knee rises and the corresponding hip and shoulder rotates forward).
  • Arm bends to exit the blade out of the water at knee level or slightly afterwards (or when body is square or perpendicular to the front of the boat).

The basic rhythm you are aiming for is a ‘lift-and-thrust’ rhythm as opposed to a ‘put-the-blade-in-and-pull’ (with arms) rhythm that most paddlers end up with.

The water work is quick and dynamic – another way of describing the stroke is a ‘catch-and-release’ rhythm. We want to maximise the catch with strong muscles (torso) rather than pulling a long stroke all the way to the hip or beyond using mostly arms.

Another way of describing the catch is ‘spear the fish’. The faster you want to go, the faster the fish you want to spear. For example, when sprinting, imagine it as the fastest, most elusive fish you can – so you have to have quick hands to spear it.

Checkpoints to confirm you are doing it right:

  • As the blade enters the water the back hand is toward the side of the face (in the peripheral vision). Not forward of the face – this will confirm that nothing else has moved yet and the torso is still side on. This will allow for maximum power once the thrust phase starts.
  • The blade does not stay in the water much past the knees – it starts exiting at the knees.
  • You have more time in the air than in the water – even when sprinting.
  • Every stroke is separated from the one before – often with a pause or mini pause between strokes at the (‘spear the fish’) set-up position.
  • The exit happens automatically via momentum rather than being a separate lifting action.
  • Drive down to lift the boat before moving it forward.
  • If you don’t have time to get the blade to ‘spear the fish’ set-up position (i.e. shaft parallel to the water at shoulder height), then your blade is most likely spending too long in the water. Meaning one of two things (or, more likely, both):
  1. You have missed the front of the stroke by moving the back hand and torso before the blade has entered the water.
  2. You have pulled the blade back beyond the knees or body square.

Check out our paddling tips or phone Tim Altman from We Paddle for kayak coaching, surf ski coaching and ocean ski coaching.